Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Worldwide petition collects 103,000 signatures to end Hong Kong helper abuse

Voices from around the world sign petition handed into HK government

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 6:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 9:23am

Human rights groups have collected 103,307 signatures from more than 160 countries calling on the Hong Kong government to take immediate steps to stop the abuse of foreign domestic workers.

Workers' rights campaigners flew in from Africa, India, Nepal and elsewhere to present the petition to the government in Tamar yesterday.

"It is time to tell the government that not just we, but people from over the world, want the government to stop the abuse of workers," said Elizabeth Tang Yin-ngor, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation.

The petition started when news of the alleged abuse of Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih broke in January.

Signatures were collected through the internet and on the street by the federation, Amnesty International, the Confederation of Trade Unions and Walk Free, a movement dedicated to ending modern slavery.

The organisers urged the government to set up a body that would take on the responsibility of collecting recruitment fees from workers before distributing the money to the recruitment agencies, preventing workers from being overcharged.

The recruitment fee itself should be decided by the government, workers and employers, they suggested. The amount is now set at 10 per cent of the first month's salary, HK$401.

Mandatory requirements that employees live with the employer and have to leave Hong Kong within two weeks of a contract ending should also be abolished, they demanded. These two rules serve to keep workers from reporting abusive employers, the campaigners warned.

Vicky Kanyoka, the federation's co-ordinator for the Africa region, said that domestic workers in Africa face the same problems as Hong Kong's helpers - overwork, lack of holidays and employers who refuse to pay their wages.

"When the workers are sick, they are not treated well. They are just given Panadol. The working conditions are very bad," she said.

Sonia Rani, a representative of Sewa Bharat, which campaigns for female workers' rights in India, warned some women were raped by employers.

"There is no sense of security. They face so much physical, sexual and mental abuse," she said.

"They don't get holidays and rest time. Some do not get paid."